February 27, 2024

Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin speaks during an event in the State Dining Room of the White House in Washington, DC on Monday, March 8, 2021.

Kevin Dietsch | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Pentagon chief Lloyd Austin announced plans to visit Asia next week on Wednesday.

The trip marks the first in-person international trip for senior cabinet officials in the Biden administration who are reluctant to go overseas in the face of the coronavirus pandemic.

The couple will travel to Japan and South Korea to strengthen ties with their US allies in the region “in the face of long-term competition with China,” according to a Pentagon press release highlighting President Joe Biden’s foreign policy priorities .

The visit will take place shortly after Biden’s virtual summit on Friday with the leaders of India, Japan and Australia.

The trip will “reaffirm the United States’ commitment to strengthening our alliances and highlight cooperation that promotes peace, security and prosperity in the Indo-Pacific region and around the world,” a State Department press release said.

Austin will then visit India and meet with his counterpart and other senior national security leaders to discuss defense priorities and cooperation for a “free, prosperous and open region in the Indo-Pacific and western Indian Oceans,” the Pentagon said in a press release.

While Austin travels to India, Blinken and National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan will travel to Alaska for the government’s first high-level meeting with Chinese officials.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken discusses US President Joe Biden’s administration priorities in the Ben Franklin room of the US State Department in Washington on March 3, 2021.

Andrew Caballero-Reynolds | REUTERS

In the past few weeks, as Covid vaccinations have increased, international executives have been testing the waters of overseas voyages.

Last week, Pope Francis made a historic visit to Iraq amid coronavirus infections in the country escalated. The Pope was vaccinated, but critics argued that the trip could put the Iraqis visiting him at risk of getting Covid-19.

Biden government officials have withheld the usual spate of international travel that comes with a new government to set an example amid the pandemic.

According to Johns Hopkins Covid, India has the second highest number of Covid cases in the world with 11.26 million infected citizens. The US has the highest number with nearly 30 million confirmed cases.